Christmas Hike

Good Man and I went up to Mark’s Lover’s for a few days for Christmas. We enjoyed an easy-going visit. On Christmas Eve is started snowing very lightly, but on Christmas is was in the mid-40s and great hiking weather. We went for a 1 hour hike (about 3 miles) at Seneca Creek Park in the early afternoon. I didn’t have my camera, so these were taken with my iPod Touch.

Bit of Snow

Tree Stump

Good Man Leads the Way

Deer Carcass

After our hike, we saw Les Mis in the theaters. Les Mis was my first bitg “theater” experience. My mom and stepdad brought me to it when I was in seventh grade (ninth?) and I fell in love with the story. “Do You Hear the People Sing” gets me every time.

We all really liked it, and it was worth the three hours on my Tush Cush. (The same could be said of >Lincoln, which Good Man and I saw right before Thanksgiving.) I still can’t drive or sit on soft seats without the cushion. Hard seats are not a problem, which is contrary to what most people assume when they hear I fractured my tailbone.

Amazingly, my back doesn’t hurt at all today! The the last time Good Man and I went for a walk of about 40 minutes, my back ached for a week afterward, so it’s a sure sign that I’m healing. I do wonder if I’ll always need a cushion in movie theaters and the like, though.

Freezer Cooking Saves My Tailbone

When the school year started, I was supposed to be taking classes on Wednesday and Thursday. I also needed to learn a new grade (which usually means more time at school planning), and my commute was going to be longer.

Considering all of that, I decided to start freezing meals to enjoy on my class days, so we wouldn’t resort to eating out all of the time.

I used to do freezer meals in our old place, but we were stuck with a tiny freezer. A few weeks ago, we bought a five cubic foot chest freezer for the basement.

Thank goodness I had been freezing meals! When I fractured my tailbone and was in really, really bad shape, we used the freezer meals to pull us through. Banana pancakes for breakfast, Santa Fe casserole cups for lunch, and potato and parsnip soup for dinner.

I am slowly healing. I’m not going to classes any longer (since I can’t drive), and my students are doing most of the physical work in class (since I can’t easily bend, reach, stretch, etc). Still, teaching the kids wipes me out! I have come home every day from work for the past two weeks and napped for at least an hour. I wake up at six and am ready for bed at eleven. My body really needs the rest.

As such, we’ve been eating freezer meals several times each week. When I prepped the spicy pork for Chuseok, I made two extra packets for the freezer so I can take them out, defrost them, and throw them in the slow cooker. Last Sunday I made lentil stew in the slow cooker and froze the extras. Tonight we’re having slow-cooked chicken and mushrooms (I made the rice in the rice cooker). I’ll save two more servings for our lunch, but the rest is going in single-servings in the freezer.

After this unexpected fracture, I am now committed to freezer cooking. You never know when you—or a friend—might be unable to cook for a while!

The Best Part of Waking Up…

…is Diet Coke in the Can!

Or is it?

Earlier this year (March? April?), I gave up soda for 30 days. At work I was drinking two sodas most days. I was drinking bottomless glasses while eating out. And I was drinking it at home, too often.

I know that cola is bad for you, and that diet probably isn’t much better. And honestly, I wondered if my constant need for dental care was related to my love of soda. I like my dentist, but I like my wallet more. I wanted to know if I would feel better.

The entire month, I was counting down to the end of the month. I couldn’t wait to get back to drinking Coke Zero at home and Diet Coke at work!

***

This summer, I was amazed at how much soda Dad drank daily, and I think it influenced me negatively. I drank even more pop than normal.

At the same time, I wasn’t eating a normal diet (because out kitchen was out of commission), getting regular sleep, exercising regularly (because we were working on the house nonstop), or drinking enough water.

I decided I needed a reboot, so when Dad left, we finished up the last of the soda and didn’t buy more.

***

A week later, work started. I held off buying any pop until Thursday. I was tired. I did what I usually do on a work day: I headed to the vending machine, put a buck in, and waited for my Diet Coke and my quarter.

I heard two coins hit the return slot. That’s weird, I thought. I fished them out.

Fifteen cents?

I glared at the pop can. I glared at the vending machine—85¢. I rolled my eyes at the coins in my palm.

This was too much. It was one thing to spend a buck and get a false “freebie” with the leftover quarters every fourth time. Now I was going to have to have to buy six cans to get that false freebie, keep track of twice as many coins, and have a nickel left over.

Furthermore, I only keep quarters in my purse. Dimes, nickels, and pennies all get thrown in the pink plastic piggy bank on the office bookshelf.

As I walked up to my room, I considered that if I got into the habit of buying a soda during the first weeks of work, I was going to be in that habit the entire year. I also realized I was going to spend enough money over the year on the price increase alone to buy a fruit tree for our backyard. I mentally tallied up the total cost and realized I could make an orchard in our backyard with the total money I would save if I quit drinking soda.

Tooth decay, the possibility that fake sugar screws up your sweetness receptors, possible bone loss, the massive waste of money, the company’s union busting ways—none of that was enough to stop me from drinking Coke. It was that ten cent price increase that set me over the edge!

***

I haven’t had a single drop of soda since then. That’s more than five weeks without soda.

The headaches from caffeine withdrawal are completely gone. I don’t have to talk myself out of getting a soda when someone else drinks them. I haven’t been tempted to get soda when eating out.

There are other side effects I didn’t expect. Since I’m no longer going into the break room for soda, I’m no longer picking at the junk people leave on the tables. I’m no longer tempted by the candy/snack sugar/salt vending machine since I don’t see it. At our twice weekly grade level meetings there is always candy. I used to eat too much of it. Other than a few during an all-day meeting, I haven’t had any candy since the first week of school. It’s almost as if I don’t crave the sugar as much.

Do I think I’ll never drink soda again? No. I remember a Cuban restaurant I used to live near in Atlanta that had a great ginger beer I enjoyed as a treat. I want to drink soda like that—as a treat, not a habit.

Chuseok Change of Plans

Originally we invited ten people to Chuseok. Then I realized there was no way I was going to be able to entertain ten people with my condition, so we scaled it back food-wise and people-wise.

Mark, his Lover, and Mark’s parents came over for spicy pork, mandu (from our freezing escapades), brown rice, pajeon (scallion pancakes) with a dipping sauce, sesame leaves (from my garden), quail eggs in soy sauce, tofu in a spicy sauce, three seasoned veggie banchan dishes (purchased), kimchi (purchased), songpyeon (purchased), Asian pears, and some wine they brought, as well as the champagne our Realtor gave us as a housewarming gift!

A few days prior, I asked Mark to bring some extra chairs.

“To sit on?”

“What else do you use chairs for?”

“When I think of Amanda and [Good Man]’s house, I don’t think of chairs.”

Well, that’s true. In our old place, we always ate at our small Korean table.

The food was enjoyed by all, and it was great to entertain in our dining room—with chairs!

Chuseok

Making Mandu

The night before I fractured my tailbone, Good Man and I made mandu together. I basically used the recipe Jonathan left in the comments.

Good Man and I had a good making the mandu and trash-talking each other’s mandu folding job.

Steaming

Done!

Freezing

Good Man Makes Coffee

By the time we were done snacking making the mandu, I was convinced we needed more than a two-tier steamer.

We wrapped up 110 dumplings and put them in the freezer for Chuseok. But then I fractured my tailbone…

Chuseok for Foreigners? What Would You Serve?

Since we now have a dining room and inherited a dining room table and chairs with this house, I decided to invite some friends over for Chuseok dinner in two weeks.

This was not my best idea since the house is still pretty much a disaster, but I guess I’ll need to at least get the kitchen and dining room in order, hmmm?

Most of the people who are coming are Korean food virgins, or they’ve had bulgogi and not much else. As far as I know, none of my guest have dietary restrictions (except that I don’t do beef most of the time).

Readers: What would you serve to a bunch of Korean food virgins for their first Chuseok? (Keep in mind I’m the only one who will be cooking, although I can make Good Man my sous chef.)

Books, Home

Date a girl who reads. Date a girl who spends her money on books instead of clothes. She has problems with closet space because she has too many books. Date a girl who has a list of books she wants to read, who has had a library card since she was twelve.

Rosemarie Urquico

We’re slowly unpacking.

And in the office closet stands the bookshelf my dad built me when I was ten. It is now crammed full with books, along with CDs and a few lone DVDs.

The books are in no particular order. A book about hiking and another about the history of zero sandwich a Kabuki graphic novel. A few spines over, Plato: Complete Works leans against a signed copy of Foxfire.

The kitchen still isn’t unpacked. It’s hard to cook. The blinds are still in their FedEx boxes. I’m living in three shirts, one pair of jeans, and a skirt. The dining room table is covered in papers I need to file. The house is a mess.

But I have books.

And it’s starting to feel like a home.

Dished

Mark and his partner have been excited about their housewarming gift for us since before we even looked at any homes. We went out for dinner a few nights back and they brought a bag.

We opened it and found this lovely platter.

Platter

“We were told it was Korean,” Mark said.

Good Man looked at the back and shrugged. He couldn’t read the Chinese characters, so he trotted off to do research. Indeed, they read “Korean Porcelain/Chinaware.”

Korean Porcelain

Then they pulled out a box. We started unwrapping dish after dish. Mark laughed, “We found these at an estate sale and thought they’d be great for Korean food.”

Dish After Dish

When we’d admired the complete set, his partner said, “We have more in the car.”

“…”

We took the boxes to the house, stashed them in the basement, and waited until we had some time to put them away. I held two shelves clear for the dishes and started unpacking.

I was delighted to find that some of the plates were actually painted on the back as well.

Back Detail

I unpacked and unpacked and unpacked. I was balancing plates, bowls, cups, and lids on every available surface. I found another platter in red.

Bowls and Lids

Plates and Saucers

Plates on a Stool

Plates Balancing on a Bucket

Bowls and Cups

Both Platters

It seemed like every times I unwrapped a dish, I found another dish in another size. Finally, I was left with a mountain of trash, and the realization that two shelves were not going to be enough.

Trash

Eighty-three dishes later (!), I had found a good way to use the strangely-shaped corner cabinets in our kitchen.

I can’t wait to invite them over for some Korean food. We’ll finally have enough dishes for all of the banchan!

Dished

Escape From Camp 14

Yesterday I took the day off of work and headed to Politics and Prose so I could see Shin Dong-hyuk and Blaine Harden speak. As I expected, I ended up in tears.

Shin is the author of 세상 밖으로 나오다, a book I wrote about reading last year. Shin is the only person known to have successfully escaped from Camp 14, a North Korean prison camp.

This month, his story was published in English as Escape From Camp 14, told by Blaine Harden. It is not a translation of Shin’s memoir. Instead it is an updated/corrected story that made me hold my breath in chapter four, and gasp at Shin’s admission in chapter five.

Escape From Camp 14
Image Courtesy of Viking

At first I was disappointed that this book wasn’t a translation of 세상 밖으로 나오다. I know from reading his Korean-language memoir that Shin’s words are extremely powerful on their own. However, crucial details in Shin’s story have changed since the publication of his memoir. Shin says:

It has been a burden to keep this inside. In the beginning, I didn’t think much of my lie. It was my intent to lie. Now the people around me make me want to be honest. They make me want to be more moral. In that sense, I felt like I need to tell the truth. (p. 47)

The truth comes in an easily readable book. Harden gives a detailed, matter-of-fact account of Shin’s life, both inside and outside of North Korea. This book is painful to read, but the details are used for education, not shock value.

Harden doesn’t limit himself to telling Shin’s story. He delivers a brief history of North Korea, and exposes how the Kim dynasty operates. He explains how a North Korean’s social/political class affects their living situation and opportunities.

Also, Harden seamlessly weaves in information gleaned from other defectors, including a former camp guard who was taught to think of prisoners as “dogs and pigs” (36).

Yet Escape From Camp 14 doesn’t come off as a dry textbook. Instead, Shin’s entire experience becomes richer and more believable because of the background Harden provides.

***

At Politics and Prose yesterday, Harden spoke for approximately 20 minutes, followed up by Shin (with an interpreter). Even though I knew what to expect, I had to force back tears.

When it came time for the books to be signed however, I lost all composure. I had brought 세상 with me, and I purchased a copy of Escape at the event. I pushed 세상 in front of Shin and Escape in front of Harden. I was upset, and the words tumbled out in simple Korean, through tears.

“I’m sorry, my Korean isn’t good. My sister-in-law read this, and sent it to me. I read it slowly and cried. It was hard. Now my friends can read your story in English. Thank you.”

And that, I think, is this book’s greatest accomplishment. Although Shin’s story is the central focus of Escape From Camp 14, Harden’s skilled journalism exposes the incredible broader truth about what North Korea is doing to its own people. Now that Shin’s experience is available to a larger audience, can we continue to ignore North Korea’s human rights violations?

Shin Dong-hyuk at Politics and Prose

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Viking in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. I was already familiar with Shin’s story, and immediately recognized him on the cover. I tore through the house. “Honey!” I yelled, bursting into the office, “Look what they finally published in English!”

I was not required to write a positive review and I have not been paid or otherwise compensated to promote this book. Although the links above go to Amazon, I don’t run affiliate links.

And yes, I did purchase another copy of this book at Politics and Prose! I want to support Shin’s bravery however I can, and a purchase is a small way to do that.

Great Falls Hike and Dalk Kalbi

Today Good Man, Sister, and I met Mark and Lover for a quick hike at Great Falls National Park.

The Falls

With Sister

With Good Man

Sister’s Shadow

I’m pretty sure I took a photo from this spot (with a different lens) in November. It made a more interesting photo then.

Mather Gorge

Straight Lines, Curved Shadows

At the Footbridge

Mark wanted a picture, but it was hard to get an angle where a) a tree wasn’t growing straight out of their heads, and b) their faces weren’t entirely in the shade. I settled on the tree growing between them.

Squinting in the Sun

On Top of the World

Cut in Half

Mark

We came back to our house and made some dalk kalbi. I usually make spicy pork, so this was a nice change of pace. We had it with kimchi, pa jeon, and hobak jeon. Everyone enjoyed it, and when we had some left in the pan, we tossed some rice on it, mixed it up, and sent it home for tomorrow’s lunch!

Dalk Kalbi